Hundreds of students across the state point to the harms of jailing women in petitions.
by Sierra Dickey
Five Massachusetts university groups have expressed public support for a moratorium on prison and jail construction through letters to state Senate leaders. Student groups from Amherst College, Wellesley College, Smith College, Hampshire College, and Mount Holyoke College have drafted letters requesting Representative Michael Day and Senator Jamie Eldridge, who are chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and their fellow members of the committee. to support the bill S2030: Law that establishes a moratorium on the construction of jails and prisons.
Coordinating via Zoom, students from these colleges have come together to support the Boston-based nonprofit Families for Justice as Healing and its volunteer collective Building up People Not Prisons, who are campaigning in across Massachusetts to pass the moratorium bill. Some universities, such as Wellesley, have established abolitionist groups that accepted the bill as a new effort on their organizational agenda. In others like Mount Holyoke, the collection of letter signatures was handled by a handful of concerned people.
Makayla Almonte is a sophomore and president of Wellesley for the Abolition of Militarization and Incarceration (WAMI), one of the groups that has taken up the moratorium as a key issue. As a high school student, Almonte participated in women’s empowerment and gun safety projects through the March for Our Lives. These interests translated well into an abolitionist arena when she came to Wellesley.
Joining WAMI opened up Almonte’s worldview, as did the scope of the group. “We have expanded our mission into other abolitionist movements, such as abolishing ICE, fighting for transformative justice, unions and labor rights,” he said.
The Wellesleys lyrics it has 148 signatories and was personally delivered to Senate leaders in February. WAMI gathered support for it through Zoom information sessions and campus newsletters. Almonte feels that endorsing the charter is an easy step for anyone to take, and one of WAMI’s most important goals is to involve as many students as possible in abolitionist action.
“I know that, especially at my school, people just live in this bubble. And it’s very girlboss and all that. So I’ve been bursting that bubble and making sure that people are aware that these kinds of things are going on, and you don’t necessarily have to have these radical views to participate in them,” Almonte said.
Smith College students also published a letter in support of the bill. His document has 195 signatures, 12 of which are professors. Across schools, the charters take similar approaches to connecting the moratorium bill to their institutions. They all suggest that building more prisons and jails in the state of Massachusetts goes against the values its schools were founded on, such as integrity, diversity, equity, inclusion, and academic freedom.
“Imprisoning women prevents them from accessing community, essential resources and education,” Wellesley’s letter says. The letter from Hampshire College cites the mission of that school, do not know, or, “knowing is not enough.” They wrote that for students there, knowing the harms of mass incarceration also requires taking action against them.
Mount Holyoke, Smith and Wellesley are historic women’s colleges, based on the belief that education is a way to build gender parity. Meanwhile, incarcerated women have often been victims of the most violent forms of gender disparity. Most women in the prison system they have survived misogynistic violence and racialized economic inequality. national organizations like survived and punished they exist to free people who were sentenced because they defended themselves against a male abuser or aggressor. Philosophically dedicated to the continued liberation of women, the rhetoric of student activists suggests that historical women’s institutions may have a responsibility to protest against the caging of women.
The moratorium bill was first written by formerly incarcerated Black women in response to an ongoing effort by the MA Department of Corrections to build a new $55 million dollar women’s prison in Norfolk on the grounds of the Bay State Correctional Center. existing. Nonprofits Families for Justice as Healing and The National Council have fought against the proposed construction during years, arguing that incarceration rates are steadily declining and that locking up women devastates communities. Activists and former inmates also know that ‘if they build it, they’ll fill it.’ Viewed from the activist’s point of view, the proposed expensive construction looks like a last ditch attempt by the DOC to prop up its outdated industry as alternatives to incarceration gain political ground and overall incarceration rates in Massachusetts continue release. In fact, the current COVID-19 pandemic has made decarceration a critical public health issue. strategy for both incarcerated populations and their surrounding communities. In this context, MA DOC continues to insist against all evidence that a new women’s prison is necessary and even beneficial to Massachusetts.
Sierra Dickey is a writer, educator, and organizer in Vermont. Read it on Twitter @dierrasickey. Photo courtesy of the author.
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